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By Elaine Hegwood BowenMany indie film lovers may wonder just where Mickey Rourke had gone, after having had some previous movie success. But he’s back, stronger than ever, as the lead, Randy “the Ram” Robinson, in The Wrestler.
Rourke plays the role so well, that it’s hard to determine whether the wrestler in the movie is channeling Rourke or Rourke is channeling The Wrestler.
The movie begins with Rourke preparing for a bout; he appears with a long, blond ponytail, hearing aid (a tribute to an old wrestler) and a scarred up body.
The Wrestler is estranged from his daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood, and he finds solace when he goes to the strip club to see Stephanie, played by Marisa Tomei, dance her little heart (and everything else) out. It seems that in many fighter-comeback movies, there’s an aging stripper waiting for her big break, also.
Rourke uses tricks of the trade to enhance his wrestling abilities, and he visits a tanning salon to keep his bronzed features. In The Wrestler, it’s obvious that the matches are staged, as the two opponents review their separate moves beforehand. But in each fight, both men duel to the end, drawing blood with each measured pummel. One agonizing fight has Rourke and his opponent using a staple gun on each other. And then tragedy strikes, and Rourke must make hard decisions regarding his health. He listens to his gut and just can’t seem to give up the life he so enjoys inside the ring, as life outside the ring fills with many letdowns and disappointments.
And again Rourke’s real life can be said to imitate the art in this movie: “I’m just an old, broken down piece of meat,” he comments in The Wrestler, making an analogy while working at the neighborhood deli.
While Rourke has a reputation for having lived life on the edge, director Darren Aronofsky says it wasn’t a risk to hire Rourke, who he says has been in therapy lately, trying to get it all together. “He told me of his 12 years of therapy,” Aronofsky said during a screening at the recent 44th Annual Chicago International Film Festival. “I was conscious of what he had done to himself and his career. He wanted to have a comeback, and he’s unbelievably talented.”
Much has been written during the past couple of months about Rourke and his once “pretty-boy Hollywood” ranking, his own admission to derailing his career and now his amazing, Oscar-worthy performance in The Wrestler. As the bell rings once again, Rourke proves he is a fighter, both on and off the screen.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a veteran public relations and journalism professional and former journalism professor. She’s publicist for her daughter, Hip-Hop artist Psalm One. A native Chicago South Sider, Elaine was a recent University of Maryland Bio Ethics, Health Disparities & Clinical Trials Fellow and winner of a Black Press Messenger Award.
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